As a science public outreach advocate, I am totally behind a new deal between NASA and animation experts Disney-Pixar. Using the new movie WALL-E, a story about the last robot-rover on Earth exploring space (with all the fuzzy, heart-warming Disney stuff in between), NASA has signed a deal with the film making heavyweight to promote NASA’s science and technology to school children. Too many times have I seen kids cartoons characters used to sell junk food, this move is very refreshing. Promoting science education though a cute robot is great in my books and may dispel any doubts in the younger generation that space exploration is dull.
There is a trend in astronomical observations to label strange and exotic objects with superlative names. Take “supermassive” black holes for instance. Yes they are more massive than intermediate black holes, bigger than stellar black holes, and in a whole different league to theoretical micro-black holes. But is the label “supermassive” an accurate description? Is it even scientific?
After reading a very interesting article written by Michael Gmirkin on “Incorrect Assumptions in Astrophysics“, I began to relate his investigation into the use of terms to describe astronomical phenomena with very expressive names. Terms like “super-massive”, “ultra-luminous”, and “beyond-bright” are mentioned by Gmirkin, perhaps leading astronomers to incorrect conclusions. Whilst this may be perceived as an issue amongst scientists, what if the media or non-specialist individuals misinterpret the meaning of these grand statements? Could it lead to public misunderstanding of the science, possibly even causing worry when a scientist describes a particle accelerator collision as “recreating the conditions of the Big Bang”? Continue reading “The Case of the Supermassive Black Hole, the Infrared Object and Perceived Accuracy of Science”
Goonhilly is an area of the Lizard Peninsula in the British county of Cornwall. This region has been the destination of countless family holidays in my lifetime, and even today the Cornish landscape provides plenty of surprises for me. One landmark in particular has been the focus of my interest for as long as I can remember. Driving from the town of Helston, past RNAS Culdrose (an active Royal Naval Air Service site), and then on toward the most southerly point of mainland United Kingdom, a strange, yet familiar sight greets me. Every time I see the silhouette of those satellite dishes on the horizon of the Goonhilly Downs, I’m full of curiosity and excitement. But this year, the station is cutting back its operations to be moved to another site. The sad end of an era… Continue reading “Goonhilly: Shutdown of the Worlds Largest Satellite Earth Station”
(Update: It seems people agree with my 2012 article and it hit the front page of Digg just before 1am (GMT) on Wednesday. Join the fun!)
The Mayan Prophecy seems to predict the end of the world, or at least a large potion of humans on Earth. As a race we appear to have side-stepped many previous doomsday events in the past (how can you forget the crazed predictions of the Y2K bug), so what makes December 21st 2012 so special? Why is it going to be this date that will kill us all off? Actually, and I doubt this will surprise all the level-headed thinkers out there, there is very little evidence that anything will happen on that date. I can’t really talk for the predictions that there will be nuclear Armageddon, a plague outbreak or an ultra-credit crunch, but as far as any astro-threats are concerned, I have good news (we’re in the clear)… Continue reading “No Mayan Prophecy Doomsday in 2012 (Sorry)”
When you stop to think about it, sending transmissions via radio into space in the hope to contact aliens is a bit silly. The intention behind the 16 transmission we have directed into space is to a) make contact with extraterrestrials, b) advertise our presence in the cosmos, and c) tell ET something useful about mankind. We know we are leaking transmissions into space all the time (i.e. radio and TV), but we assume they don’t travel that far or are too weak for aliens to detect. But wait one second… We are constantly blasting radar into space, tracking near earth asteroids; will aliens pick up those transmissions? Well, these radar transmissions have covered 2000 times more sky than radio and last 500 times longer. And since the 1960’s we’ve sent 1400 radar transmissions into space. So, what’s the verdict? Aliens are one million times more likely to receive the tracking signal from NEO tracking radar than radar intended for aliens… Continue reading “Aliens More Likely to Pick Up Our NEO Radar Transmissions than Radio”
I’ve heard some crazy talk in my time, but the fear surrounding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN has really surprised me. On writing a story last month that a guy in Hawaii (with a scant background in physics) was trying to pass a lawsuit to put a stop to the construction of the LHC, I realised the pressures physicists at the cutting edge of science are under. Physicists the world over have defended the science behind the LHC, and although some of the products from high energy particle collisions are as yet unknown, there is an infinitesimal chance that a black hole will swallow Earth… (I actually want a black hole to be created, the scientific implications will be revolutionary.) Continue reading “LHC Worries are Based on Fear of the Unknown, not Science”
My true aim for astroengine.com is to post advanced (but interesting) space physics concepts on an informal stage. But when news like this comes along, I feel compelled to say something. In a nutshell, the UK physics and astronomy community has been hit with a series of harsh and ill thought-out budget cutbacks in recent years. Things have gotten worse since April 2007 (when the two main research councils PPARC and CCLRC merged) when all UK physics and astronomy funding started being managed by The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). It would appear the main focus is to find ways to plug the £80 million funding deficit it has inherited and not to find ways to protect research projects.
So, physics and astronomy in the UK is facing cutbacks on a scale that defies intelligence. Why is a nation, as scientifically gifted as the UK, making cutbacks to research that will shape the most exciting era of science mankind has ever seen? Continue reading “UK Physics and Astronomy in Danger”